Finding Faith Isn’t Easy — The Church Edition

So I’ve written abou this before. But in that case, it wasn’t so much about religion as much as it was about cancer.

This time, it’s about religion.

Why?

It’s not just that we didn’t go to church Sunday (while it’s tough with kids, we are somewhat regular). It’s more that I didn’t miss going to church this Sunday. Or any other Sunday.

At all.

This is part of my self-diagnosed mid-life crisis. (Yup, I’m having one, by the way.)

I should miss it — shouldn’t I? Or, it’s not even so much that I miss it. It’s that when we do go, the only time I seem to walk out of mass with interest is when I know the Knights of Columbus are holding a pancake breakfast in the hall.

Something is missing.

I mean, I’ve told you this before. I was an altar boy. I’ve been a lector forever. A Eucharistic minster, too. Heck, I even ran the parish council for a few years. Throw in eight years of Catholic elementary school and I’m destined for saint hood. Or not.

I’ve told  you what I like about the Catholic church — the tradition and the mystery. I love the concept of the mass and how it’s structured. However, recently, I’m just not getting enough out of it — if anything.

And that bothers me.

Of course, take a look at a couple of the church’s big issues — capital punishment and abortion. Yup, I’m all for the death penalty. And, ladies, it’s your body. As far as I’m concerned, you get to choose what to do with it.

It’s not like those are some minor issues that I’m disagreeing with. Throw in my support for gay marriage and, well, send me to hell right now.

Because of my beliefs, some would say I have no business being in the church.

Can’t lie and say I’ve never thought of that. But the question that always comes up in my head — if not the Catholic church, where?

The other question is — why am I thinking about this now?

Well, can’t lie. Death (and cancer) certainly have a lot to do with this.

I’ve had enough happen in my life alone to question my faith — let alone what others I know have had to deal with.

And, I should say, questioning faith doesn’t mean I don’ t have any. I do. Or at least I want to  have it.

It’s a quest to find some sort of spiritual comfort. Where does it come from? How do I get it? And, then, if I do get it, what the hell do I do with it?

I believe in a higher power/authority. Ok, yeah, I believe in God.

Is God a he? A she? A what? Doesn’t matter. I believe that there is one — regardless of who or what it really is.

Where I have the problem is figuring out why God wants to mess with not just me, but with others.

OK, if there’s a lesson I’m supposed to learn because of Dad and Tim, could I just know it now? Hasn’t it been long enough? Yeah. It has.

The kids are baptized. Aidan goes to a Catholic school. Sure, my experience was a great one. But, honestly, one of the main reasons he goes is because they provide after-school care. Of course, part of my hope is that Aidan going to a parochial school will help his behavior and attention in church. We’ll see how that goes.

I say prayers with the kids every night. And, I also say my own prayers every day. Not always at the same time. Not always in the same place. But, bottom line is they get said.

Heck, I’m a godfather — three times! I do take that responsibility seriously. I mean, being selected by key friends and family — well, it’s simply an honor.

But, that doesn’t mean I’m without question — because I’m not.

And, yes, I’ve read The Shack. An amazing work. Read it if you haven’t. Did it change the way I think or look at things? Not really. But it has inspired conversation. And conversation is always good.

I have a lot of questions. A lot of issues.

To some extent, I don’t want to wait any more for the answers. I know I have to. I know I can’t get the answers to some of the questions now — and maybe not ever. But that doesn’t mean I don’t want them. Because I do.

I also, to some extent, believe in the power of prayer. Not so much that it can heal the sick, per se. But more so that it draws people closer — in a different way. And in that sense, it provides comfort.

When Dad and Tim died, I know people were praying for them — and for me. Did that do anything to help them? No. But it certainly did something to help me.

When Mom had her bypass in January, people were praying then, too. Did it help her physically? Maybe it helped her get through the surgery, but the complications persisted for quite some time, so hard to accept that.

But, again, what it did was bring comfort — to mom, my sister, my brother and me — at a very difficult time.

Again, it takes people with a shared experience/interest and brings them closer. I don’t care if it’s prayer or something else, any time that happens, it’s a good thing.

So where does this leave me?

Beats me.

Will I start getting more out of mass? Was I really ever getting anything out of mass? Honestly, I think the answer to both of those questions is I don’t know.

I love to argue — er, debate — religion. Always have. My Dad and I were famous for our ‘conversations.’

I would often take the opposite side of an issue just so I could disagree with him and argue points against him. It was that much fun. Kind of our thing.

I always promoted the notion of doing good things, of being a good neighbor, of going to church on a regular basis.

Dad was never for that. Nope. “Michael, always be careful with this one,” he’d say.

“Why’s that, Dad?” I’d respond.

“Because, Michael, no matter what you believe and what you think, one thing is very clear — religion is a very personal thing.”

I realize now, more than ever, how true that is.


9 Comments on “Finding Faith Isn’t Easy — The Church Edition”

  1. Kathy says:

    Read Karen Armstrong’s new book “Case for God”

    NPR interviews her here: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=112968197&ft=1&f=1032

    She talks about how to see God as as an adult. Most of us learn about God & Santa Claus as children and learn to think of Santa differently as we grow up, but not God.

    Kathy

  2. Carrie says:

    When we experience loss in any way – no matter our faith or religion – there are always questions. At least for me. And while I would not classify myself as having any sort of religion and I am a perpetual ‘sinner’ in many people’s eyes because I do not believe in church persay, i do have a degree of faith. Have to right? look at my blog name… that’s where my faith is. That things happen 4 a reason – why? I dont know. One thing that has been apparent is in the ‘advice’ if that is what you call it that I can offer friends who face death and its awful process. To share and hopefully comfort them (and you – i hope with our conversations) by knowing that I DO know what you are going through. There is a weird sort of comfort in sharing these experiences. Why is death so prevalent? Cancer standing in our front row? Why Dad? Why so young? I (and you) won’t ever really know. But there is some comfort for me in knowing that in having the ‘experience’ I can help others in some small way with a difficult part of life.

    You with your words here, help so many you don’t even know. You share your thoughts that are, I am sure, shared by so many others. You ask the questions so many have asked before you and will continue to ask afterwards. While I cannot offer you solice to answer any of the questions about faith or church or even death, I hope you find some ‘explanation’ in the fact that with your experiences you have touched the hearts and minds of others. Helping them to know they too are not alone with their questions.

    Thank you for sharing like you do. You are not alone.

  3. fritz says:

    that is exactly where i have been for some time now! i haven’t figured out any answers, but i do know that questioning faith is just more proof that you/i do indeed have faith and the belief of a higher power. i was raised just like you and have asked the same questions over and over, part of me cannot abandon the belief structure i was brought up with and the other part of me wants to have nothing to do with it…

  4. Erin says:

    Very interesting writing Mike. I also like to debate religion, I think it is healthy. Having been brought up with similar family values as you, it is difficult to question things. My sister calls me a cafeteria catholic, take what I want, leave what I don’t. My son is 20 and attended catholic schools through 10th grade. Come time for confirmation he informed me he wasn’t doing it. (like we would have ever said that to our parents!) However, as we talked about it, I realized it is his choice and not a decision to take lightly. He said he could not stand in front of the Bishop saying these are things I believe in. I do, of course, hope someday he will receive this sacrament.
    Of course then there are all the issues you mentioned, abortion, capital punishment, and the big one for me…divorce. Not something I am proud of, but unfortunately it happens. And at times there are reasons that cannot be ignored. So the church tells me I can receive communion for now, but not if I get remarried……hmmm. Of course I do believe religion is personal, as is everyones individual relationship with God.
    Ok now that I have vented all (not really, there is more) my thoughts, the bottom line is Yes Mike we still like you!!

  5. Jennie says:

    I agree with Fritz – your questioning proves that you really do have faith. I really enjoyed reading this, although that sounds weird since you are struggling so much in this area. I just love your honesty. I think waaaay more people are in the same boat as you but are just too scared to admit it. Thank you for sharing this.

  6. Barb says:

    I have been feeling alot of the things that you are talking about …. Why is it that I feel so guilty if I can’t make mass? That is how I feel alot of the times about going to church…getting the guilt trip from being Catholic… I listen to a show on XM called The Catholic Guy… and actually he is pretty great… He seems to be a normal guy with normal issues… it’s just that he tries to be a good Catholic… and fails sometimes. It makes me feel like I can mess up from time to time and God will still be there. There are many things that I will never be able to understand or explain about religion.. but in times when I feel terribly low, it has helped to just get me through. I guess for right now that is all I can ask for.

  7. Marie says:

    I was a lapsed Catholic for many years and started going to Mass again after my mother died thinking that it would make be feel better. It really doesn’t but I keep going and hoping. I have many of the same issues with the church that you do but I also cannot imagine changing to a different religion. I have no answers.

  8. Anna says:

    I could write this–it would be a great lunch conversation one day, if we actually ever got to go to lunch instead of meetings!

    Raised Catholic, went to Catholic school, but right or wrong, self-centered and short-sighted or not, I could not accept that a decent God would take my mom when she had an 8-year-old, a 12-year-old with Down’s syndrome and a 14-year-old, never mind the 21-year-old who still needed her, too. I understand there are far worse tragedies in the world and that perhaps we are tested for a reason, but I still can’t accept the Church as a place of inspiration. I found comfort in her funeral mass, from the ritual and the fact that she chose it all, but never found any comfort in the Church since.

    Joined the Episcopal Church for so many reasons, and got married and baptized our children there, but of course, the Catholic guilt hangs on.

  9. molly's mom says:

    found this two months later but just have to say something here, being raised catholic myself. there is something mysterious about ritual…. but you know….. the same goes for voodoo.

    i think you should take what you need and leave the rest.
    spirit is spirit and you don’t have to be in a pew on your knees to demonstrate your faith. i honestly believe that nobody, and i mean nobody, has more of a direct line to God than the next guy. to loosely quote Ram Das, we are all fingers from the same hand.

    the politics, business and control of the catholic church is just that – politics, business and control, based around guilt and a touch of fear. it’s corrupt, and that has been proven many times over. furthermore, it’s not even the original religion, just one of many branches off of the one before it, yes?

    there are many messiahs and many paths. they all seem to point to the same direction in the end. if it’s doing it for you, that’s great. if it’s not, your faith in God does not necessarily need to be the Catholic one. i think your exploration and questioning is a healthy thing.


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